Collecting History: For the Love of Chocolate

The man, the legend: Richard Cadbury (from Wikipedia)

‘Tis the season for love – and chocolate! How many of us haven’t received the delicious treats in the now traditional heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day? We can thank chocolatier, Richard Cadbury, who would forever cement Valentine’s Day and chocolate together. After taking over the family business in 1861 with his brother John, Richard came up with the ingenious idea of selling his family’s treats in decorative boxes. In 1868, the Cadburys produced the first heart-shaped box as a container for their chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Riding the wave of Victorian romanticism, people of the time would keep the boxes to store their love letters, locks of hair from their beloved, and other mementos of the heart.

Montezuma II painting by Daniel del Valle, 1895. “Take me to my chocolate!”

Heart-shaped box aside, chocolate had been considered a type of aphrodisiac dating way back to ancient Mesoamerican cultures. The Aztecs and Mayans considered xocolatl – chocolate – a very special elixir that contained elements for energy boosts, medicinal properties, as well as a substance that increased the libido. Chocolate – then only consumed in liquid form – was enjoyed both hot and cold. Aztec emperor Montezuma II allegedly drank 50 cups or more of chocolate per day! That’s a whole lot of chocolate.

Marie-Antoinette enjoying “drinking chocolate” at Versailles (from

The Spanish introduced the drink as an expensive imported product to Europe’s elite. It was the Spanish who added cane sugar to the drink to make it less bitter. French King Louis XV was so fond of drinking chocolate he made his own to enjoy with his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, in his private rooms using a recipe he concocted himself. Years later in 1770, when Marie-Antoinette arrived at court in Versailles to marry the future King Louis XVI, she insisted on bringing along her personal “chocolatier” from Austria who was given the title “Chocolate Maker to the Queen.”

Fry’s was purchased by Cadbury in 1919 (from

The first edible chocolate bar wasn’t introduced until 1847 by British candy makers J.S. Fry & Sons. In the 1860s, the Cadbury company, who until then had been focused on tea and coffee, began using a new cocoa press developed in the Netherlands that made it possible to remove some of the cocoa butter – an edible but unsavory fat extracted from cocoa beans – during the chocolate-making process to create a creamier eating chocolate. But it was the Swiss in the 1870s who came up with a process to create the first milk chocolate bar.

Hershey and his factory in Pennsylvania. So delicious and successful, they named the town “Hershey” (from

Here in the United States, Milton Hershey developed the first assembly-line for the production of milk chocolate bars in 1900. By the 1920s, chocolate bars were all the rage. Some of the most popular were Baby Ruth, Oh Henry!, Charleston Chew, and – my personal favorite – Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

A “taste” of Villa Finale’s current mini-exhibition celebrating chocolate and chocolate molds (from the Villa Finale Collection).

At Villa Finale, we have an extensive collection of chocolate molds – first introduced in France in the 1830s – used by chocolate-makers and folks who wanted to have a crack at making treats at home. The molds evolved from simple trays with geometric designs – called “flat-backs” – to two-sided molds called “double-molds” shaped into fun shapes. These molds in our collection are normally difficult to see since they are kept further away from visitors in the Kitchen and Basement, which isn’t normally open to the public. However, if you visit us through the end of March, you can see some of these molds up close in a new mini-exhibition now on display in Villa Finale’s Dining Room!

Shoebox brand Valentine’s Day card (from Pinterest).

So this Valentine’s Day, if you receive a heart-shaped box of chocolates, remember the marketing genius of Richard Cadbury and all the different people throughout history who have made chocolate the delicious treat we know today … just don’t be like Montezuma II and eat 50 pounds of it!

If you’re interested to learn more about chocolate molds or beginning / adding to a collection, visit Dad’s Follies, the largest company for antique metal molds. Click here to view their website.